Cindy Stauffer’s courageous moments essay entry describes her new start, alone in an unfamiliar setting. Read her words on courage and comment for your chance to win an iPod nano.

Cindy Stauffer

Reluctant Launch

I think the scariest thing in the world is to do something you’ve never done before – all alone, without the company of family or friends. In new situations, our primal fear of the unknown manifests itself in the form of clammy hands, butterflies, and racing thoughts. As our mind conjures up “worst case scenarios”, our fear skyrockets. Couple this fear with an absent support system, and you have a situation requiring the utmost boldness.

Such was the case for me in December 1984, as I was driving to Virginia to report to my first duty station as a 2d Lt in the Air Force. Having grown up and attended college in Atlanta, Georgia, I was used to being surrounded by family and friends, a support system built from 22 years of living in the same place. However, as I crossed the state line into Virginia on my way to Langley Air Force Base, I realized I did not know a single person in my new home state.

This thought terrified me. I had already spent the long hours driving up, pondering heretofore unchartered mental meanderings like, “Where will I live?”, “How does one learn a new full-time job, and am I really trained for it?”, “What if I’m not really the military type?”, “Who will I hang out with?”, “Will I be able to learn my way around my new town?”, and, finally, “What if I forget to render the proper military courtesies only sketchily covered during my ROTC training?”.

In a sort of “misery loves company” stream of consciousness, I sought to comfort myself by thinking about some of my ROTC classmates also headed out to their first assignments. However, this idea only intensified my fear when I realized many of them had a spouse or a classmate accompanying them to their new base or, at a minimum, they were headed to do a job like flying for which they were perfectly prepared, whereas I was a math major heading into a computer programming job, back in the days before computers were a part of everyday life.

But, alas, what could I do but face my fears head on and report in to the base the next day? After all, my military orders told me where to be and when – so I didn’t exactly have choice. Remembering a quote I had read in college in On Becoming an Educated Person (Voeks, 1979), “If you intensely fear failure in some activity, wholeheartedly try that activity” (p. 210), I forged ahead and faced my fears by throwing myself into my new Air Force life…and what a blessing that turned out to be! I am happy to report that that first deliberate act of boldness led to a fulfilling 20 year career in the Air Force!

Is Cindy’s leap into the unknown familiar? How much courage does it take to start anew — and solo? Offer your comments below, and read the other entries here.